God commands us, “Let marriage be held in honor among all…” (Hebrews 13:4a) The word “honor” is sometimes translated “precious” in the Bible. It is used to talk of precious stones used in the Temple (1 Kings 7:9-11 in the Greek translation of the Old Testament), of the precious stones that make up the walls of the New Jerusalem (Revelation 18), and of Christ’s precious blood (1 Peter 1:19). In other words, whether married or single, young or old, Christians are called by God to prize marriage. It was created by him for blessing and to be embedded in the world as a pointer to the gospel (Ephesians 5:22-33 which quotes Genesis 2).
Here are four ways you can hold marriage in honor, as something precious & valuable. The first two are ways you can honor marriage as a married couple, and the second two are ways both singles and married couples can obey Hebrews 13:4.
1) Be faithful to your marriage covenant. The full text of Hebrews 13:4 reads, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” God declares that the first way to honor marriage is to be faithful to your marriage covenant. When you said, “I do,” you weren’t simply signing a contract. You were entering into a covenant before God and witnesses. Part of keeping that covenant is to stay sexually faithful to your spouse.
God gives a strong warning to help us be faithful in marriage: “For God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” (Heb. 13:4b) In the Old Covenant, the punishment for adultery was death (Leviticus 20:10). In the New Covenant, we can be thankful that Jesus took the punishment of death for us. But that doesn’t mean you won’t have God’s discipline and judgment if you are unfaithful to your wife or husband. Often “natural” consequences of adultery such as shattered trust, potential STDs (testing is needed after a confession), pregnancy outside of marriage, and the complicated relationship problems that follow are God’s judgment. King David’s life after adultery in 2 Samuel should be warning enough.
But there is also the spiritual side. Before adultery is committed, there has been a gradual falling away from God. Jesus warned about adultery and hell (Matthew 5:27-30) and the Apostle Paul includes “the sexually immoral” and “adulterers” in the list of those who will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9). Part of repentance if you have been unfaithful to your marriage covenant is examining your heart before God. There is grace and forgiveness if we will come to Christ after any sin. Paul explains the gospel in the same passage, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified…” (1 Corinthians 6:11)
God warns us against his judgment to protect us spiritually and to protect us in our marriage relationships. He wants you to honor–to prize–marriage and that starts with being faithful to your marriage covenant.
2) Enjoy the gift of your spouse.
Hebrews 13:4 doesn’t just give us a warning. One great way that we honor marriage is by enjoying the gift of our spouses. God also says, “…and let the marriage bed be undefiled.” This is tied into the deterrent of consequences due to adultery or other forms of sexual immorality, but it is also a reminder that the purity of sex in marriage is good and created by God. Remember when it was common in Christian jargon to say, “I’m keeping myself pure until marriage?” Those who said it had good intentions, but a better way to say it would be, “I am saving sex for the purity and enjoyment of sex in marriage.” We need to embrace the gracious reality that the marriage bed is designed by God to be a place of purity and refreshment (Proverbs 5:15-19).
Anything God has designed to be beautiful and refreshing can become stained and stagnant due to our sin. But the gospel redeems what we may have polluted by our sin. When you repent of any sexual sin, either adultery or lust in any of its forms, and embrace the gift of your spouse, God loves to transform and renew. When God speaks to a newly married couple, this is his banner over their marriage bed, his wedding gift to them and to you no matter how long you’ve been married: “Eat, friends, drink, and be drunk with love!” (Song of Solomon 5:1)
The gift of the marriage bed is just the cherry on top of the marriage relationship. You honor marriage when you enjoy the gift of your spouse as your closest friend. One of the reasons God created marriage was to create life-long companionship in a lonely world (Genesis 2:18). We honor marriage when we build into that one-flesh relationship and when we enjoy life with our spouses. The writer of Ecclesiastes encourages this in 9:9. Do you see the world through her eyes? Do you know what his greatest joys and deepest difficulties are right now? If not, set some intentional time aside. Go have fun together and ask a few questions–and listen. Your time on earth and your time with your husband or wife is limited, so honor marriage by enjoying the gift of your spouse.
3) Celebrate anniversaries.
I used to look at happy couples in their 70s or 80s who have been married for 50 or 60 years and think that their success in marriage is due to them being very compatible. I didn’t express it that way and I couldn’t have backed that up biblically. But it’s easy to see a couple who can now complete each other’s sentences and think that they coasted into their golden years together, always with smiles on their faces and kind words on their lips. Now that I’ve been married almost two decades myself, have counseled and talked about marriage with many couples over the years as a pastor, and have studied what the Bible says about marriage–I know that I was completely off-target.
Every anniversary is a hard-won victory. Every anniversary is a declaration to Satan and the world that God’s power and grace at the cross is greater than our sin. Every anniversary is a renewal of vows, a break in the day-to-day that says, “I still do.” Every anniversary is a reminder that our marriage is a shadow of the greater marriage between Christ and his bride (Ephesians 5:31-32), every anniversary dinner a pointer to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.
We don’t coast into decades of marriage. We fight into decades of marriage. We fight our flesh and the devil and the world that tells us we will never be happy with one–while all the while God calls us into the deeper delicacies of delighting in marriage one day, one decade at a time. We can never coast in marriage because we are called to reflect the gospel in marriage, and Jesus always pursues us.
You honor marriage by celebrating your anniversaries, whether that is a carefully-planned and hard-budgeted weekend away, or take-out on the couch like we did when our youngest was only a few months old. We also honor marriage when we recognize and celebrate God’s work in a couple through honoring their anniversary–as simple as a comment on social media or in-person or as elaborate as helping to plan a party.
4) Build up other couples.
One of my favorite types of counseling to do is premarital counseling. Maybe it’s because there are not often major problems to untangle, but I think it has more to do with the fact that my wife and I usually do this together in our home. As we talk about biblical principles for communication and forgiveness and money and sex and portraying the gospel in marriage with a starry-eyed couple, there’s a joy in sharing our own mistakes and victories. The oneness we share deepens as we shock the couple with the fact that they will fight some day, and soothe them with the fact that with the love of Jesus they can overcome any argument or obstacle.
What I have just described is something that any couple can do for any other couple, whether or not they know Jesus. We often think that building up other marriages means that we need special training or an office, but so many young couples wish they had an older couple to just talk with over a cup of coffee in their home.
This is an area the entire church can link arms in. Singles can build up couples by praying for them, offering occasional childcare for date nights, or by simply sharing a word of encouragement in Christ. We often think that only marriage counseling builds other couples up, but pushing each other to Jesus as we are called to do in the church is the best thing we can do for marriage. Often elderly couples who will never know they helped somebody will be the encouragement a younger couple in the church needs. It may be just by seeing one of them help the other through getting the walker out of the car and slowly going into the Sanctuary together. Build up other couples, both intentionally and by being present in their lives.
“Let marriage by held in honor among all…” Prize marriage. Hold marriage as precious. In doing this, we point to the enduring, sacrificial love of Jesus. And we help others along their pilgrimage to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.